CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
November 19, 2017
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SCM: The next 50 years

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The supply chain profession has seen dramatic change in the past 50 years. There's much more to come.

When the council of Supply Chain Management Professionals got its start in 1963 as the National Council of Physical Distribution Management (NCPDM), man had not yet landed on the moon. Personal computers did not exist, and bar codes had not yet been invented.

That's all changed, of course. And over the past 50 years, the discipline of supply chain management has changed along with the technology that supports and enables it. When NCPDM was formed, the focus was on the movement of goods or materials from one location to another. Today, by contrast, the flow of information from one computer to another is just as important to a company's success as the physical movement of goods from a factory to the warehouse.

Since the information flow must run parallel to the flow of goods, software facilitates the supply chain processes of plan, source, make, and move. Indeed, given the complexities of global operations in a volatile business climate, I would argue that no company today could implement any modern supply chain strategy without extensive use of computers and software. And although many supply chain managers take software's capabilities for granted these days, to be effective in their jobs they must be as knowledgeable about the workings of information technology as they are about warehousing and transportation.

Globalization has also reshaped supply chain management over the past 50 years. The earth has become "flatter," to use a term popularized by The New York Times writer Thomas Friedman. In a "flat" world, national economies have become entwined with one another, due in large part to the existence of the Internet, which makes it possible to create complex flows of data and information reaching across the globe.

Globalization requires supply chain managers to abandon their parochial perspectives and adopt more cosmopolitan and holistic views. Today supply chain managers have to understand not just procurement, manufacturing, and distribution, but also national cultures and markets.

If the past 50 years are any indication of what's ahead, then you can expect to see even more change, and at a faster pace. Indeed, tomorrow's supply chains will be vastly different from those of today. We will see new technologies, such as additive manufacturing and nanotechnology, making new demands on supply chain managers.

You can also expect supply chain boundaries to expand. I would not be surprised to see companies transporting goods and raw materials in outer space, perhaps using some kind of "warp drive" technology like that envisioned in the television series "Star Trek." When supply chains do extend to outer space, supply chain managers will still have to make sure that the right goods are produced for consumption, and that shipments arrive on time and damage-free regardless of how many miles (or light-years) they travel. It's not hard to imagine that 50 years in the future, CSCMP may have to change its name to CISCMP—the Council of Interplanetary Supply Chain Management Professionals.

James A. Cooke is a supply chain software analyst. He was previously the editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly and a staff writer for DC Velocity.

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